Ten years ago, the Easy Star All-Stars began a series of albums that transformed landmarks of pop musical culture into thick and easy flowing reggae. They started with Dub Side of the Moon (2003, Easy Star Records) (from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon), continued through Radiodread (2006, Easy Star) (from Radiohead's OK Computer) and then re-visioned The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band (2009, Easy Star).
But where could the Easy Star All-Stars (ESA) go after John, Paul, George and Ringo? Well, why not one of the biggest and best-selling albums of all time: Thriller, Quincy Jones' masterblaster Michael Jackson production. "For me, I was most excited for Thriller," explains ESA producer, arranger and guitarist Michael Goldwasser. "I was always more of an R&B/soul and reggae kid growing up and I have an intense personal connection to Michael Jackson's music."
"Writing the arrangements for this album was a cool challenge," Goldwasser continues. "I didn't have to try to make non-dance music into dance music as on our previous albums because the original Thriller is so danceable already. I needed to find ways to make each song groove in a different way from the original version. I didn't want any of the arrangements to be obvious in that regard."
Goldwasser arranged and produced sessions in Brooklyn (NY), Tel Aviv (Israel), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Birmingham (UK) and Kingston (Jamaica), and pulled together a genuine village, to complete this tribute. Thrillah centers around the ESA touring bandGoldwasser, keyboardist Elena Canlas, bassist Yossi Fine (David Bowie, Gil Evans, Stanley Jordan) and drummer Joe Tomino (Dub Trio, Matisyahu). Other musicians who climbed onboard include satellite All-Stars Victor Axelrod (Antibalas, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings), guitarist Shelton Garner Jr., trombonist Buford O'Sullivan and drummer/percussionist Ivan Katz; percussionist Andy Farag (Umphrey's McGee); and the horn section from Israel's most famous hip-hop funk band, Hadag Nachash. Vocalists Michael Rosen (from Black Uhuru), Luciano and all of Steel Pulse return from Lonely Hearts, Mojo Morgan returns from Radiodread, and Hawaii's reggae export The Green harmonize on "Baby Be Mine."
The best way to dive into Thrillah might be to start with the last two songs: "Dub It," a dub mix of its remade "Beat It," and "Close to Midnight," a cavernous and booming dub of its title track through which horns, guitars, percussion and melodica wash in and out of echo like Vincent Price's ghost.
Properly slowed down and re-spaced, the bass line to the iconic title track "Thriller" transforms into a perfect reggae fulcrum. Vocalists Mikey General and Spragga Benz confidently romp through Jackson's famous vocal and transform Price's horror rap into reggae toasting. Mojo Morgan and Steel Pulse languidly flow through "The Girl Is Mine," Jackson's duet with Paul McCartney.
"The Lady in My Life" and "Billie Jean" are Goldwasser's two most striking rearrangements. He drops most of the accompanying instrumentation and frees vocalist Christopher Martin to delightedly slowdance with "The Lady" dressed in only bass, drums and melodica, which floats like a butterfly trailing behind his vocal. A churning, slightly grungy bass line drives "Billie Jean" to a completely different, more confrontational yet still danceable destination.
Hey, why not Metal Machine Music next?
Wanna Be Startin' Something (featuring JoWil and Ruff Scott); Baby Be Mine (featuring The Green); The Girl is Mine (featuring Mojo Morgan and Steel Pulse); Thriller (featuring Mikey General and Spragga Benz); Beat It (featuring Michael Rose); Billie Jean (featuring Luciano); Human Nature (featuring Cas Haley); P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing, featuring Kirsty Rock); The Lady in My Life (featuring Christopher Martin); Dub It; Close to Midnight.
Michael Godwasser: guitars, clavinet, synthesizer, percussion, melodica, glockenspiel, backing vocals, programming; Yossi Fine: bass; Joe Tomino: drums, synaire; Elenna Canlas: piano, organ, electric piano, synthesizer, clavinet, backing vocals; Victor Axelrod: clavinet, organ; Shlomi Alon: tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone; Yair Slutzki: trombone; Sefi Zisling: trumpet; Andy Farag: percussion; Gavriel Friesem: percussion, binghi drumming; Shelton Garner, Jr.: guitar, backing vocals; Ivan Katz: drums, electric drums; Amit Sagie: guitar, binghi drumming; Buford O'Sullivan: trombone; Jenny Hill: tenor saxophone; Wayne Wiggum: synthesizer; Kirsty Rock: backing vocals; Joanne Williams: backing vocals; Paul Schellack: backing vocals; Tali Goldwasser: backing vocals; Simone Smith: backing vocals.
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